Neo-Ottomanism is the driving ideology behind contemporary Turkey’s domestic and foreign behavior
It’s no secret that Turkey endeavors to restore its Great Power status all across its former Ottoman realm, driven in part by the strategic calculations outlined by former Foreign and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and carried through to its present iteration through the pioneering charisma of President Erdogan. The policy of so-called “Neo-Ottomanism”, as it’s been popularly referred to by outside commentators over the years, has proven itself to be one of the most disruptive ideologies of the 21st century. Supporters laud its ambitious vision to return Turkey back to its Ottoman roots – both in terms of de-facto religiously influenced governance and Great Power status – while detractors point to the death and destruction that Neo-Ottomanism has directly contributed to in Syria as evidence that it’s resulted in much more harm than good.
No matter which side of the debate one stands on, it can generally be agreed that Neo-Ottomanism is the driving ideology behind contemporary Turkey’s domestic and foreign behavior, and that it’s indeed one of the most influential forces shaping the future of the Mideast, for better or for worse. That being said, it’s absolutely important to understand the nature of this grand strategy in order to accurately forecast its development across the coming years, hence the reason for conducting this research.
The author argues in Part I that Neo-Ottomanism relies on soft power nostalgia for the Ottoman past, emphasizing Turkey’s central role in building what would eventually become the world’s largest caliphate, albeit modified in political-administrative ways to adapt for the present post-modern/post-Western reality. In its quest to de-facto recreate the Ottoman Caliphate, Turkey is transforming its internal governing structure in order to ultimately make it more suitable for expanding and retaining its foreign influence. Pertaining to the latter, the transnational Muslim Brotherhood network which is clandestinely embedded across all levels of society in the Mideast and North Africa (MENA) acts as the vanguard ‘revolutionary’ force for Neo-Ottomanism, but given its recent setbacks over the years, it’s insufficient for sustaining Turkish influence across this large region.
Therefore, Turkey is simultaneously pursuing a broad-based strategy to secure as many reliable sources of energy as possible in order to position itself as a more independent player unencumbered by the structural restraints which come from its present dependence on Russian resources, which occupies the focus of Part II. As it turns out to be, there’s almost a perfect overlap between the soft power, geopolitical, energy, and military components of Neo-Ottomanism, and this second section endeavors to shed light on these connections in order to imbue the reader with a more comprehensive understanding of this Great Power project. In order to present a more comprehensive level of analysis, Part III then briefly examines the opportunities and challenges that Turkey faces on its path to build the Neo-Ottoman Caliphate.
Soft Power Underpinnings
Neo-Ottomanism builds off of the historical memory of the Ottoman Caliphate, a period of time which has become very popular to reminisce about in Turkish society and which also has its fair share of admirers among some of the more religiously focused Arabs all throughout MENA. While some people such as the Syrians, especially the secular ones, view the Ottoman centuries as almost half a millennium of occupation (just like their Serbian counterparts do in the Balkans), there are still many others which interpret it very differently and see it as a high point in their history. These very religious individuals are much more loyal to the concept of the Ummah – especially its political-administrative embodiment as the former Turkish-led Ottoman Caliphate – than they are to their respective countries, and it’s from this large proportion of the masses that Erdogan seeks to cull his international supporters.
The Muslim Brotherhood Alliance:
By and large, however, there are still many populists which have strong reservations about the nature of Turkish rule over the centuries and could easily stir up trouble which could undermine Ankara’s ambitions, which is why it’s so important for Turkey to differentiate between its ethno-nationalist identity as an ‘exclusive’ country of the Turks and its inclusive religious one as a fellow “brother” to all the Muslims in the world. Seen in this way, then Erdogan’s decision to openly sympathize with and support the Muslim Brotherhood takes on a different meaning, since it can thus be understood as constituting part of his religious opening to MENA and demonstrating his common point of convergence with non-Turkish Muslims. This group isn’t representative of the majority of Muslims in this transregional space, but it’s nonetheless a powerful anti-government force to be reckoned with, and additionally gives Erdogan and Turkey added ‘credence’ among religious conservatives.
What’s crucial to understand about the Muslim Brotherhood is that it aspires to overthrow both secular and Wahhabi governments in order to usher in its own form of Islamic governance. This technically makes it a ‘revolutionary’ organization, and it in many ways structurally functions as a 21st-century iteration of the communist party in the sense of wanting to replace the present political order in their country with a new transnational one unified by ideology. The “Arab Spring” Color Revolutions can thus be analyzed as an attempt to carry out a swift succession of coups designed to lay the political-ideological foundation for a network of satellite states which would be run by whichever power had the highest degree of influence over the Muslim Brotherhood. While this role was originally played by Qatar, the tiny monarchy’s leadership capabilities are understandably limited and it has no history of ruling the region, whereas Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Turkey has centuries’ worth of experience in managing the Ottoman Caliphate.
From the geopolitical perspective, the US sought to replace the existing order in the Mideast with a Turkish-controlled network of Muslim Brotherhood-run states, essentially recreating the Ottoman Caliphate in order to both organize a partial pan-Arab Sunni alliance against Shiite Iran and exert pressure on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Kingdoms, considering of course how deathly afraid the latter category are that the organization could one day violently come to power there too.
This strand of thinking correlates with the integrational tendencies observed elsewhere in the world, be it the EU, the Eurasian Union, SCO, or ASEAN, except furthered in a much more disruptive, violent, and sudden manner.
It also was preconditioned on having Turkey behave as the US’ “Lead From Behind” partner in controlling this region as Washington’s proxy, relying on Erdogan’s comparatively more ‘authentic’ Muslim credentials compared to the American President’s in order to earn him added ‘legitimacy’ among these populations in justifying his envisaged transnational leadership role as this ideology’s most influential state patron. For as ideal as this strategy sounded on paper, however, it didn’t deliver as expected in practice and for reasons which will be touched upon later on in the text. Nevertheless, Turkey remains tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and utilizes it as its Neo-Ottoman vehicle for advancing Ankara’s influence all across MENA, even if it never has the opportunity to do so on as grand of a basis as it was poised to immediately after the ‘success’ of the “Arab Spring” Color Revolutions and by the time of Erdogan’s late-2011 ‘victory tour’ of North Africa.
Standing Apart From The Saudis:
For as impressive of an historical legacy as it has, and given the relative effectiveness of its Muslim Brotherhood foot soldiers, Turkey still doesn’t hold the same amount of sway over MENA and the rest of the global Ummah as Saudi Arabia does. The Saudi King is recognized as the caretaker of the Two Holy Mosques, and this alone imbues him with enormous respect all across the Muslim world. The Kingdom’s support of Wahhabism has also earned it many influential adherents among the Ummah, despite this strand of Islam being largely recognized by many Muslims as being ultra-conservative and even radical. In fact, an under-reported gathering in Chechnya last year saw Sunni religious leaders from a host of countries all but ‘excommunicating’ (to use a Catholic comparison) the Wahhabis from their fold, further highlighting the general unattractiveness of this ‘brand’. Be that as it may, it’s hard to argue with the assertion that Saudi Arabia’s global influence is predicated on the dual pedestals of its caretaker role over the Two Holy Mosques and the ideology of Wahhabism, the latter of which has been given a surreal soft power boost due to the hundreds of billions of petrodollars that stand behind it decades-long proselytization campaigns.
The value-added differentiator that sets Turkey apart from Saudi Arabia is its historical legacy of administrative-political leadership over a broad part of the Ummah and its embrace of the relatively (key word) more moderate Islamic governance as advocated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Although there are in practice very little differences between these two, the perception of course is that the Muslim Brotherhood is slightly less radical than the Wahhabis, which theoretically gives Turkey a soft power boost over the Saudis.
Additionally, the reason why Saudi Arabia has listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization – other than its objectively identified use of terrorism in pursuit of its goals – is that the group wants to replace the King as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Extrapolating from this and going forward with the scenario, the organization’s most powerful foreign patron would thus become the true caretaker of these religious sites, and should this continue to be Erdogan and the Turkish state, then it would dramatically elevate them to becoming the symbolic leaders of many of the Ummah’s Muslims.
There’s no evidence that Turkey is conspiring against Saudi Arabia and directly working with the Muslim Brotherhood to overthrow the King, but in the event that this group does indeed succeed with its ‘revolutionary’ goal, then it would instantly propel Erdogan to becoming a 21st-century Caliph ruling over a post-modern/post-Western Neo-Ottoman Empire at the crossroads of Afro-Eurasia, thereby granting him unprecedented geopolitical influence over global affairs. Though it’s extremely doubtful that this will ever happen, let alone anytime soon, this idea can be said to serve as an inspiration which works towards Turkey’s ultimate soft power favor in recruiting more Arab MENA Muslims to its Neo-Ottoman cause. More than likely, any advancement of this scenario wouldn’t necessarily be due to Turkish cunning, but rather the Muslim Brotherhood’s typical exploitation of chaotic situations, such as in the event that domestic destabilization arises within the crumbling Kingdom and is first exacerbated by Iranian (political, diplomatic, or perhaps even other) support for its Shia co-confessionals in the oil-rich Eastern Province, which then provides space for the Muslim Brotherhood to rise elsewhere in the country and try to pull off an Egyptian-like coup against the government.
The soft power underpinnings of Neo-Ottomanism might sound attractive to a broad base of MENA Muslims, which could naturally give Turkey an enormous amount of geopolitical sway, but they’re incapable by themselves of ensuring that Ankara’s influence remains enduring and ever-lasting in the manner that Erdogan expects it to be. It’s conceivable that Turkey could one day influence Muslim Brotherhood-governed countries all across this transregional space along the lines of the abovementioned “Lead From Behind” strategy, but this is crucially dependent on the stability of the Turkish state itself and its immediate borderlands. Turkey and its two southern neighbors have been greatly destabilized owing to Erdogan’s front-row participation in the US’ War on Syria, which has revealed itself as being a 21st-century iteration of the Yinon Plan in respect to dividing the Muslims all along “Israel’s” periphery. Even though that’s how it’s turned out, it was thought at the time by Erdogan that this was his perfect opportunity to establish a Muslim Brotherhood client state next to his borders and therefore give him a prime position to project more ideological influence into the Arab World. It would also, of course, enable the construction of the Qatar-Turkey pipeline which President Assad had earlier rejected, the significance of which will be elaborated on later.
While the War on Syria is proving itself to be a failed enterprise for all of its culprits, especially Turkey, it also saw the eventual administrative-political tweaking of Neo-Ottomanism. Turkish scholar Dr. Can Erimtan warned in late-2013 that “the government’s long-term goal (as arguably expressed in the AKP’s policy statement Hedef 2023) is to transform the nation state Turkey into an Anatolian federation of Muslim ethnicities, possibly linked to a revived caliphate. In this way, Turkey’s future (as a nation state) would arguably become subject to Anatolia’s past as a home to many different Muslims of divergent ethnic background.” What this basically means is that the devolution of the unitary Turkish state to a federation would give Ankara the flexibility to incorporate/annex territories under its wing which are populated by people of a separate ethno-nationalist identity in order to build the post-modern/post-Western 21st-century Neo-Ottoman Caliphate. In practice, this could allow for all or part of Syria become part of a reformatted Turkey, as well as Syrian and Iraqi “Kurdistan”, and the geographically large Sunni areas of Iraq. In fact, the “federalization” of both Syria and Iraq would amount to an internal partition in both cases and the emergence of a transnational sub-state “Sunnistan” which could, under Dr. Erimtan’s analyzed template of the future Turkish state, come under Ankara’s eventual control.
Turkey is still a unitary republic, but it’s on the verge of transforming into a centralized one if the forthcoming constitutional amendments are approved in April’s referendum. Erdogan would in that case be empowered to reverse Ataturk’s legacy by removing secularity from the country’s constitution, or at the very least overriding it for all intents and purposes. The devolution into a federalized republic could also be sold to the country’s citizens as a compromise with the Kurds, though in reality it would be a sly maneuver for one day formalizing the inclusion of Syrian-Iraqi “Kurdistan” and “Sunnistan” into the Neo-Ottoman Caliphate. If an expanded Turkey (or whatever it might be called by that point) can directly connect to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, then it would establish itself as a major global power capable of both cooperating and competing with its southern neighbors. Either way, it would earn a lot of “respect” among its supporters in the Ummah, particularly those which used to be a part of the original Ottoman Empire. For this to happen, though, like it was earlier written, Turkey needs to devolve from a unitary state to a federalized one, whether or not it still maintains (even in a superficial sense) its republican identity, as this would enable it to more easily absorb more Muslim Brotherhood-controlled territories and supporters.
Turkey, especially under Erdogan, is striving to achieve maximum flexibility in its foreign policy dealings, but this is impossible to do unless it can attain reliable and secure access to energy. Truth be told, Turkey already has this with Russia so it doesn’t need to look any further to attain this, but what the Neo-Ottomans want is to one day diversify their supplies from Russia to the point where Moscow’s energy connection with Ankara is completely depoliticized and absolutely incapable of influencing the de-facto Caliph. This push for full strategic sovereignty is very much like what China is currently doing through its management of multiple energy suppliers all across the world in order to avoid a dependence on any single one. For example, the People’s Republic counts its main energy partners as being Russia, Turkmenistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Angola, and there’s nothing stopping Turkey from doing something similar, albeit with some different suppliers.
The Russian Projects:
Turkey is very comfortable with its reliable and secure energy access from Russia, as manifested by the current Blue Stream and future Balkan/Turkish Stream projects, and any diversification away from its present and medium-term dependence on Russian supplies shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a hostile act against Moscow, let alone one which puts either of those two initiatives in jeopardy. Turkey needs the Balkan/Turkish Stream for geostrategic reasons just as much as Russia does, since this creates the structural platform for Moscow and Ankara’s collaboration in solving the three most pressing Balkan problems – Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Each of these potential (continuation) conflicts are interconnected to a large strategic degree owing to the nature of Balkan geopolitics, the demographics involved, and the influence of traditional Great Powers such as Russia, Turkey, and Germany, to say nothing of the interfering role that the US has recently begun to play in this region since the end of the Old Cold War. The deteriorating relations between Turkey and Germany give Russia an opportunity to replace Berlin as Ankara’s partner in the Balkans and herald in a new era of cooperative relations that would seek to resolve the three previously mentioned trigger points which also endanger the viability of their Balkan/Turkish Stream joint project.
In a nutshell, Balkan/Turkish Stream was agreed to by Turkey not just as a means of securing reliable access to energy, but as a way to deepen its strategic partnership with Russia and hopefully move it in the direction of Balkan cooperation.
This is why the project will remain important to Erdogan and whoever may eventually succeed him because it moves beyond the pragmatic purpose of satisfying Turkey’s energy needs by also giving the country the chance to promote the soft and political power of Neo-Ottomanism, though not necessarily in a manner which obstructs Russia’s regional interests. Therefore, Balkan/Turkish Stream will remain influential even if the Neo-Ottoman state succeeds in diversifying its energy partners away from Russia and lessening the leverage which Moscow is theoretically capable of exerting on Ankara due to its dependence on the former’s resources. However, it should be forewarned that Turkey’s efforts to achieve maximum strategic flexibility through energy diversification could also backfire by emboldening its leadership to possibly take geopolitical positions in the Balkans and Mideast which are contrary to Russia’s out of the knowledge that Moscow would be less effective at possibly wielding the energy card as it could have done before.
The Near Abroad:
Turkey’s “Near Abroad”, or in other words, the countries within close proximity to its borders, provides for Ankara’s ideal solution in lessening its dependence on Russian resources, and it’s already pursing these opportunities to a large extent. The map below outlines the current and forecasted pipelines which involve Turkey to some degree or another, followed by brief explanations of each one and their overall significance:
These projects were already described, and the hashed lines indicate the two paths that Balkan/Turkish Stream could take in supplying the regional and larger European market. These are essentially a revival of the South Stream project through Bulgaria and then on towards Serbia and deeper into Europe, or a circuitous detour through Greece and then the Republic of Macedonia before reaching Serbia.
Red – BTC Pipeline
This existing pipeline connects Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, and is also used to supply “Israel”. It forms the ‘spine’ of most of the planned or forecasted routes which run through Turkey and was proof of the concept that the country could serve as an energy bridge between various players.
Green – TANAP/TAP (in progress)
The Trans-Anatolian Pipeline is currently being built, and it plans to transform into the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline by crossing that sea and eventually connecting Italy with Azerbaijan by means of Georgia, Turkey, Greece, and Albania. This project, and any related non-Russian one in this part of the world, is referred to as being part of the EU’s so-called “Southern Corridor”.
Dark Blue – Kirkuk-Ceyhan Pipeline
This Iraq-Turkey pipeline passes through the Kurdish Regional Government and has the potential for further expansion and use. It doesn’t just have to stop at Ceyhan, and could conceivably be expanded to connect to TANAP and thenceforth directly to the EU market through either Italy or the Nabucco Pipeline.
Grey – Nabucco Pipeline
This long-discussed route would in theory link Turkey with the EU by means of the bloc’s Balkan states of Bulgaria and Romania. It largely fell out of discussion after Russia unveiled South Stream and seamlessly replaced it with Balkan/Turkish Stream, but it still remains a possibility, especially if enough energy from Azerbaijan, Iraq (including the Kurdish Regional Government), Iran, and/or possibly even Turkmenistan and Qatar becomes available.
Brown – Iran-Turkey Pipeline
The changing geopolitical conditions of renewed US-Iranian tensions make this route less likely than it was before, but even so, it deserves to be spoken about at least briefly. Iran could potentially connect its Persian Gulf energy supplies to either TANAP by means of Southeastern Turkey (“Turkish Kurdistan”) or indirectly through Azerbaijan and then Georgia. The first route is much more economically feasible, but runs the high risk of being targeted by the PKK, hence the possible need to detour through Azerbaijan and Georgia, or maybe even Armenia and Georgia in reaching the Black Sea, Romania, and the rest of the EU.
Orange – Turkmenistan Interconnection
The Central Asian Republic has copious amounts of gas, and it’s always been one of the EU’s dreams to find a way to tap into it. Two possibilities exist; an undersea pipeline to Azerbaijan and TANAP, or an overland one through Iran. Both ideas seem unlikely to reach fruition anytime soon owing to the unresolved territorial settlement over the Caspian Sea and increasing US-Iranian tensions, respectively, but regardless, these possibilities shouldn’t be completely forgotten about and opportunities might arise in the future for their fulfillment.
Pink – Qatar-Turkey Pipeline
This route was one of the reasons behind the War on Syria, as President Assad didn’t agree to it and opted instead for the Friendship Pipeline between Iran, Iraq, and Syria. In the event that he’s removed through a phased regime change in accordance with whatever conflict resolution settlement might be agreed to, or if Syria is “federalized” (internally partitioned), then there’s a very real chance that this project could receive a second breath of life and be built through “Sunnistan”. Just like the prospective Iran-Turkey pipeline, the idea is to eventually link it up with TANAP and then Nabucco in order to supply the EU.
Lavender – Arab Gas Pipeline
There’s already a little-known pipeline bringing together Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, and the possibility theoretically exists for it to be expanded to Turkey too, but the War on Syria and Cairo’s post-Muslim Brotherhood problems with Ankara have precluded this from happening for the time being. If President Assad is removed and Egypt and Turkey reconcile, then this project might become viable and contribute additional energy supplies to Turkey, as well as potentially feed into Nabucco.
Black – Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline
The last examined project which Turkey has its sights set on is the large-scale one which has been proposed for linking “Israel’s” Leviathan offshore gas fields with Cyprus’ nearby Aphrodite one via an underwater pipeline that would eventually terminate in Greece, possibly with the chance of joining TAP to supply the southern EU. It also can’t be precluded that this project would connect with the proposed Ionian-Adriatic Pipeline between Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia in sending energy to Central Europe. In order for Turkey to have a stake in this project, it needs to succeed in pressuring Nicosia to agree to the federalization of Cyprus and therefore allowing the northern Turkish-controlled part to indirectly enable Ankara’s involvement.
Light Green – Ionian-Adriatic Pipeline
Referred to above, this prospective pipeline would either serve as a branch of TANAP or the other half of the Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline.
Other than the many energy connectivity possibilities which exist in Turkey’s Near Abroad, there are also three other suppliers which have yet to be discussed, and these are Libya, Tanzania, and Mozambique.
The North African state is mired in an intense state of civil war after the pro-Turkish Muslim Brotherhood “rebels” were unsuccessful in cementing their power following the overthrow and murder of former Libyan leader Gaddafi. There doesn’t seem to be much hope that Turkey can restore what it had assumed would have been its premier position in the country after the “Arab Spring” events, even though there have been reports that it’s still trying to do so through low-scale support given to various militias. Even in the case that Ankara can recover some of its strategic losses in the post-Gaddafi country, it wouldn’t be with the intent of building a pipeline of any sorts, but rather through controlling some of Libya’s energy exports to Europe via its companies. However, this is looking increasingly unlikely as Western and Russian companies are racing to fill the void in preparing their business plans for whenever the country eventually stabilizes
Tanzania and Mozambique
These two gas-rich countries have yet to become major global players on the energy marketplace, but their offshore deposits are impressive enough that they’re expected to reach this enviable position sometime in the future. Just like with Libya, Turkey harbors no desire to build a pipeline from either Tanzania or Mozambique to its own shores (nor is such an idea economically feasible), but wants to simply secure reliable access to the energy that’s expected to be exported from here in the next decade. This forward-thinking planning was one of the reasons why Erdogan visited these two countries in January, and it’s expected that the relationship between all three parties is only expected to grow in the future. Keeping in mind that other Great Powers are racing to tap into these resources too, it’s a prudent move for Turkey to try to get in first and possibly play the ‘caliphate card’ in appealing to Tanzania’s majority-Muslim population and minority believers in Mozambique.
Part I mentioned that there’s an almost perfect overlap between Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman soft power, geopolitical, energy, and military interests, so it’s now appropriate to explain the latter element of Erdogan’s global blueprint and prove how it closely corresponds with everything that’s been expostulated upon to this point. The most coherent way to do illustrate the undeniably visible pattern at play is to go through the previous list of energy interests and highlight the influence that Turkey’s military is playing on each of these actual, ongoing, and prospective projects. For comparison’s sake, here’s the map once more, and it will be followed by the exact same descriptive format for outlining each endeavor and then explaining how the relevant involvement of Turkey’s military is conditioned on achieving Erdogan’s grand Neo-Ottoman objectives of positioning his country into a strategic superpower:
Light Blue – Blue Stream (existing) and Balkan/Turkish Stream (in progress):
Turkey didn’t have to use any military means to secure either of these projects, but Russian-Turkish military coordination in Syria and pertinent conflict resolution diplomacy in Astana have strengthened the bilateral relationship and confirmed the broader strategic wisdom behind agreeing to both of them.
Red – BTC Pipeline:
Turkey has fraternal relations with Azerbaijan and has been blockading its rival Armenia – whom Turkey also has issues with concerning the post-World War I genocide – and has been supplying Baku with military hardware and advisors ever since the country’s independence. Ankara is also a strong proponent of Georgia’s NATO membership, not so much as a means of irritating Russia, but as a way to advance Turkey’s influence over the Caucasian country and pair the energy relationship with a military one in recreating a regional sphere of influence in the transcontinental border space.
Green – TANAP/TAP (in progress):
Relations are horrible right now between Turkey and Greece, though they’re very good between Albania and Turkey. Whether or not it’s connected, ties between Tirana and Athens – never close by any means – have gotten slightly worse around the same time as those between Ankara and Athens have, though for different reasons, albeit both related to territorial disputes. Greece, however, isn’t recognized by any serious experts at this time as exhibiting the behavior of a sovereign and independent state, so it’s possible that its EU overseers might force it to remain on good enough terms with both of its Neo-Ottoman neighbors in order to not jeopardize the prospects for the many “Southern Corridor” projects which are anticipated to run through its territory.
Dark Blue – Kirkuk-Ceyhan Pipeline:
Turkey is very close to the Kurdish Regional Government of Masoud Barzani, who despite being a Kurd, bucks the Mainstream Media stereotype by enjoying high-level strategic relations with Erdogan. In fact, relations between both actors are of such an important level that Barzani ‘invited’ Turkish troops into the areas of Northern Iraq that he controls in order to train the Peshmerga and defend against any of Daesh’s possible offensives further north.
This sparked a major diplomatic incident in December 2015, but looking past the problems that it caused for Ankara and Baghdad, it ironically showcased just how close Erbil and Ankara are, contrary to popular thought.
As it pertains to the examined pipeline politics at play for Neo-Ottomanism, this proves that Turkey is willing to dispatch military forces to protect the Kirkuk-Ceyhan route and would also likely be favorable – or at the least, not outright opposed – to “Kurdish independence” in Northern Iraq, so long as Barzani and his Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) remained in charge and the resources kept flowing through Turkey en route to the global marketplace.
Grey – Nabucco Pipeline:
Turkey hasn’t utilized its military to promote this proposed project because it simply sees no need to. That, however, doesn’t mean that Turkish military deployments elsewhere aren’t related to this pipeline, since Ankara’s moves in Northern Iraq and Southeastern Turkey (“Turkish Kurdistan”) are directly connected with potentially securing these routes for future use and thereby enabling their eventual linkage with Nabucco one day.
Brown – Iran-Turkey Pipeline:
As was just mentioned above, Turkey’s military operations in its southeastern corner of the country (“Turkish Kurdistan”) are partially meant to destroy the PKK terrorist insurgency with the intent of facilitating a possible Iran-Turkey pipeline which could eventually feed Europe through Nabucco. It should be noted, however, that amidst the recurrence of traditional Turkish-Iranian suspicions (in spite of the Tripartite between them and Russia over Syria) and rising US-Iranian tensions, this pipeline seems ever less likely to be built anytime in the future, and that Turkey’s military actions in the southeast are mostly for the sake of national unity and to promote a possible forthcoming federal solution which would help propel the administrative-political expansion of Neo-Ottomanism with time.
Orange – Turkmenistan Interconnection:
There is nothing that Turkey can do militarily to improve the chance that this project is ever actualized , but its alliance with Azerbaijan and anti-PKK efforts in the southeast of its own territory help to secure it in the unlikely event that it’s ever constructed.
Pink – Qatar-Turkey Pipeline:
President Assad’s choice to decline participation in this project is perhaps one of the main triggers for the War on Syria, and it’s why Turkey has expended such time, energy, and resources towards trying to topple him. It also explains why Turkey both actively and passively assisted terrorist groups involved in this campaign, whether through arming them directly or turning a blind eye through their transit across its territory.
Operation Euphrates Shield has as one of its unstated objectives the creation of a pro-Turkish sphere of influence in the north which could eventually be expanded to include all of “Syrian Kurdistan” (should a KDP-like pro-Turkish party be successfully installed there) and the southern desert regions of “Sunnistan” (including potentially those in western Iraq as well).
Moreover, Turkey opened up a military base in Qatar last year, which presently serves the function of deepening the Muslim Brotherhood bonds between the two countries and also supervising part of the maritime route through which Qatari resources will travel on the way to Turkey, which will likely see much use in the coming future seeing as how the chances for a Qatar-Turkey pipeline are plummeting unless Syria can be coerced into agreeing to de-facto “federalization” to facilitate it.
Lavender – Arab Gas Pipeline:
The prospects for this pipeline are fully connected with whether or not President Assad is deposed and if Cairo and Ankara enter into a rapprochement. Ties between Egypt and Turkey have been strained ever since President Sisi overthrew pro-Turkish Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi in 2013, and they’ve struggled to return back to their prior level ever since then. Even so, there’s nothing in principle which precludes Egypt and Turkey from cooperating on the Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline since they both also ‘recognize’ “Israel”.
Black – Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline:
One of the most ambitious energy projects in the future stands to be the Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline, and it’s probably one of the reasons why Turkey decided to publicly reconcile with “Israel” after the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident. Turkey doesn’t directly have any stake in this initiative, but it does have a chance to get involved via its client ‘state’ of Northern Cyprus, specifically if this entity enters into a federal arrangement with the rest of Cyprus which could give it and its decision makers access to the offshore Aphrodite deposit.
This in turn would essentially give Turkey a channel through which it could also profit from this project, but more importantly, become a strategic overseer over a crucial transit section of it (via a federalized settlement to the Cyprus conflict and the North’s corresponding influence on the united entity’s economic policy), thereby propelling Turkish influence to even higher levels than previously thought possible. Ankara would then be able to have yet another form of leverage over Athens which could complement TANAP and possibly lead to Greek concessions in the Aegean Islands dispute sometime in the future.
Turkey lost almost all of the influence that it thought it had gained following the overthrow and killing of Gaddafi after Libya slid into a multisided civil war, and Ankara has yet to claw back even a fraction of it despite its reported assistance to some of the armed groups (Neo-Ottoman proxies) there. Erdogan triumphantly strutted across the three post-“Arab Spring” North African states of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia at the end of 2011, but in the years since, Turkey’s influence has considerably diminished over each one of them, except perhaps strategically irrelevant (in this specific context) Tunisia.
The US’ hopes for achieving a transregional Muslim Brotherhood series of pro-Turkish satellite states failed miserably after the Syrian people refused to surrender and Libya consequently slid into civil war. The 2013 Egyptian coup spelled the final end of this geopolitical project, at least in its originally intended iteration, though it might receive a late boost of sorts if aging Algerian President Bouteflika passes away and a second Islamist Civil War breaks out in the sprawling North African country.
However, even in such a case, the close proximity to Europe and very high likelihood of uncontrollable immigration flows portends a rapid reaction intervention by the Western Great Powers (led by France) in order to stem the predictable chaos, which would probably work against Turkish Neo-Ottoman strategic interests. Correspondingly, the resolution of the Libyan Civil War probably won’t be to Turkey’s benefit since Western and even Russian companies are poised to gain influence over the country’s energy exports and squeeze out Turkey.
Tanzania and Mozambique:
The North African obstacles interfering with Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman global blueprint aren’t present in Southeast Africa, though, which is why this region of the world is so promising for Ankara when it comes to securing reliable energy access. Erdogan and his team seem to have already realized this, which might be why Turkey is opening up a military base in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. This isn’t just to fight against Al Shabaab like the press releases make it sound, but to also eventually exercise influence along the north-south maritime route which will become ever more important as Turkey seeks to diversify its dependence on Russian resources by becoming a larger purchaser of Tanzania and Mozambique’s.
On a broader level, Sub-Saharan African offers enormous market and agricultural potential for Turkey, and Ankara’s diplomatic offensive of the past years in opening more embassies and consulates all across the continent, as well as Turkey’s improved flight connectivity to dozens of cities, improves the odds that this will reap profitable future dividends. There’s also the fact that nearly a quarter of all the world’s Muslims live in Africa, where they constitute nearly half of the population, which plays into Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman Caliphate narrative by improving the soft power image that it has in eyes of some co-confessionals. Taken even further, it’s possible that Turkey’s military inroads with Somalia and its strategic ones with Tanzania and Mozambique might serve as springboards for further Great Power expansion deeper into the continent.
The Afro-Eurasian blueprint for Neo-Ottomanism was revealed in the previous two parts of this research, so now the work will take a turn towards examining the opportunities and challenges that could realistically impact on Turkey’s forthcoming Great Power expansion and strategic plans. In order to make this as easy as possible for the reader to go through, the following information will be organized in any given order according to bullet points that summarize each main concept and then briefly elaborate a bit more about them:
*The “Federalization” Of Syria:
If the Syrian Arab Republic is carved up into a collection of quasi-independent identity-focused statelets, then it’ll be much easier for Neo-Ottoman Turkey to expand its own potentially forthcoming federalized administrative-political apparatus to incorporate “Syrian Kurdistan” and “Sunnistan”, conditional on the former being run by a KDP-like pro-Turkish leader/party, and the latter achieving cross-border sub-state political connectivity with its co-confessionals in Iraq or expanding to the point of abutting Jordan.
* The “Federalization” Of Cyprus:
Turkey is striving to see to it that the island is reunified through a federal arrangement which would grant the Northern Cypriot statelet influence over the unified country’s economic affairs, which would then allow Ankara to de-facto be able to leverage its influence in gaining a stake in the Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline. If Turkey can become a party to this project – no matter to which indirect degree it is, such as through Northern Cyprus – then it will be able to greatly expand its influence in the entire region and by extent through Greece and Southern/Southeastern Europe as well.
* The Tripartite:
The trilateral strategic coordination between Russia, Turkey, and Iran is advantageous for Ankara in this context because it preserves stable relations with Tehran and improves the chances that an Iran-Turkey pipeline could one day be commissioned. This is still a very distant prospect, however, but it’s nevertheless important for Turkey to safeguard this route in order to leave open the possibility of receiving Turkmen gas via Iran and then re-exporting it to the EU via TANAP and/or Nabucco.
* Syrian Resistance:
If the patriots continue to resist the War of Terror on Syria and hold out against the dangerously real de-facto “federalization” of their country (whether as part of an intentional or inadvertent consequence of the conflict resolution process), then this would throw a wrench into Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman plans by drastically diminishing the possibility that “Syrian Kurdistan” and “Sunnistan” would be swallowed up by a revived and federalized Caliphate. It would also make it so that the only hope for building the Qatar-Turkey pipeline would rest with Iraq and via transit across “Iraqi Kurdistan” and its version of “Sunnistan”, though this could be disrupted by pro-Iranian Shiite forces if Turkish-Iranian relations begin to sour.
* The Tripartite Falls Apart:
Turkey’s American and “Israeli” allies are pressuring it to break ranks with Iran and force Russia into a choice between Ankara and Tehran, of which it’s widely expected that Moscow would side with Ankara when it comes to Syria while still retaining moderately positive relations with Tehran in general.
Any sort of substantial step in this direction would destroy the likelihood of an Iran-Turkey pipeline to feed into TANP and/or Nabucco, though Ankara might figure that this could be an ‘acceptable sacrifice’ if it believes that the PKK Insurgency might take a long time to totally quell anyhow.
It might also be nudged in this direction if a deal is made between Ankara, Washington, and Tel Aviv to guarantee Turkey’s de-facto participation in the Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline as compensation, with the US and “Israel” promising to push Nicosia to accept the federalization of the island which would enable this.
* “Sunni Civil/Cold War”:
Identified as a scenario nearly half a year ago in a previous piece of research, the author believes that there’s a chance that Turkey and Saudi Arabia could become rivals for MENA’s Sunnis, though this eventuality seems less likely nowadays after Erdogan’s latest visit to the Gulf and the negative trend in Turkish-Iranian relations.
In the event that a strategic dilemma develops between both of them, potentially relating to Ankara’s patronage of the Muslim Brotherhood and Doha’s subversive utilization of its shared proxy against Riyadh, then the two Great Powers might enter into unfriendly competition with one another that could possibly see the Saudis dispatching Wahhabi jihadis against Turkey.
* Nagorno-Karabakh Re-Erupts:
If a Continuation War occurs in Nagorno-Karabakh, possibly started by “EuroMaidan”-like Armenian nationalists which seize power in Yerevan sometime in the future, then it would run the risk of prompting a Russian-Turkish crisis over the two sides’ contradictory mutual security obligations to Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively. Moreover, the Armenians might damage the BTC Pipeline to the extent that it might take an indefinitely long period of time to eventually fix, which would totally undermine Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman ambitions in trying to become an energy crossroads superpower.
* The Constitutional Amendments Fail:
Overlooked amidst the grander scenarios being presented in this section, if the Turkish people reject Erdogan’s proposed constitutional amendments for enacting a strong presidential system in the country, then it would instantly stop internal/domestic Neo-Ottomanism and prompt the government to scrambling in finding other ways for bringing this about. Although seemingly unlikely, it can’t be ruled out that this won’t happen.
* Coup And Civil War:
If the US manages to do the supposedly impossible and pulls off a coup against Erdogan, then the country would probably enter into civil war as the Islamists fight against the Secularists and the whole Neo-Ottoman project suddenly unravels. There seems to be no way that Erodgan’s supporters would allow a coup government to undo the perceived progress that their leader has made over the past decade, and the subsequent conflict would fundamentally transform every level of Turkish society.
On a related tangent, if the PKK Insurgency intensifies and gets wildly out of control, this would both prevent the future construction of an Iran-Turkey pipeline and also send destabilizing shocks all throughout the country which could dangerously reverberate in unimaginable ways, thereby further undermining the state and potentially contributing to the above mentioned civil war scenario.
* Somali Mission Creep:
Although not too important of a factor in the grand scheme of things, Turkey needs to avoid having its Somalian base become the target of different terrorist groups, as this might pull Ankara deeper into the decades-long quagmire in the country.
However, considering that there are reports that Turkish-ally Qatar holds powerful influence over Al Shabaab, this is unlikely except in the event that Daesh takes over parts of the country and carries out these attacks instead.
In that case, Turkey and its Somalian hosts might feel compelled to separate the “good” anti-Daesh Al Shabaab from the “bad” pro-terrorist ones and apparently replicate what seems to be the popular trend in both Syria and Afghanistan vis-à-vis Jaysh Islam and the Taliban, respectively.
* Greek-Turkish War:
The escalation of bilateral tensions to the point of war could prompt a situation whereby neither party is interested in going forward with the TANAP project. If Turkey doesn’t yet have influence on the Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline by that time through the federalization of Cyprus, then Greece will vengefully do everything in its power to prevent this from happening.
There’s a distinct possibility for TANAP to be rerouted through a future Nabucco pipeline, which would still take years to build in any case, but that might also not happen if Sofia sides with Athens out of Orthodox solidarity and/or returns to being under Russian influence to the degree that it objects to any project which could weaken Moscow’s Balkan/Turkish Stream sway over the region.
By Andrew Korybko